Epistemologies of religious experience in medieval and modern Vedanta

Author: 
Forsthoefel, Thomas Albert
Year: 
1998

     This dissertation reviews the philosophical issues concerning religious experience, paying special attention to the social and cognitive dimensions of religious experience. The author argues that the fruit of careful study of the mechanisms which produce religious knowledge--in addition to appropriate political studies of knowledge--yields greater understanding of reality in its most complete context, include understanding of God. Using the epistemological frameworks of internalism and externalism, the author examines the mechanisms which 'produce' liberating experience in the Advaita of San kara, Suresvara, and Padmapada. The author argues that internalism is the best model to understand these thinkers, though internalism here is ultimately incomplete without the theoretical services of externalism. As an example of a version of Advaita that is even more decisively internalist than that of the medieval subjects studied in this dissertation, the author examines the writings of Raman[dotbelow]a Mahars[dotbelow]i, a twentieth century Advaitin adept from Tamil Nadu. The author argues that all religious programs require elements of internalism and externalism, though one or the other epistemologies may predominate. Moreover, when internalism is decisive, a strong form of universalism is evident. This is especially clear in the modern Advaita of Raman[dotbelow]a Mahars[dotbelow]i. However, when externalism is decisive, we see religious programs more strongly indexed to local cultures, a phenomenon exemplified by the Srivais[dotbelow]n[dotbelow]ava tradition of South India.

Advisor(s): 
Griffiths, Paul
Department: